Company of one..
You're probably familiar with some or all of these buzzwords. The most obvious thing they have in common is that they're all buzzy trends in the software industry.
There's some hype for sure, but I believe there's an important, underlying reason behind these trends. And I believe it's the same reason they'll keep picking up momentum.
A zeitgeist, if you will.
So what do all of these trends have in common? And what is the underlying reason behind their allure? And most importantly, what does all of this have to do with you?
These questions have been at the heart of my work over the past few years, and while I certainly don't have all the answers, I am very excited and constantly humbled by the places they've taken me and the truths I've learned about myself along the way.
So today I'd like to explore these trends a bit and see if we can't collectively find some answers to these questions.
But first, let's zoom out a bit…
The best way to predict the future is to invent it. - Alan Kay, 1971
Ambitious developers are more empowered than ever before to invent the future. We have cloud services that enable us to affordably spin up more compute resources than entire countries had at their disposal 20 years ago. We have a wealth of accessible, organized information available online for any conceivable topic.
We have more powerful, open collaboration tools like GitHub, FloydHub, and all the other hubs that allow us to collectively push the frontier of human knowledge forward more efficiently than ever before.
And at the center of it all you have software developers.
We are the practical glue that binds all of these advances together. We're the shared engineering toolbelt that enables innovators across every discipline to invent tomorrow. From art to medicine to neuroscience to space exploration to fighting climate change, etc etc etc.
That all sounds like some rosy bullshit.. what's your point?
Okay, okay my capricious friend.. my point is this:
If software developers are more empowered than ever to make positive, meaningful changes to the world, then why aren't more developers working on ambitious, innovative projects?
Don't get me wrong; there are lots of people working on ambitious projects that will help change the world in incredible ways. But I also see so many of my fellow developers working 9-5 jobs on products they don't really care about because well, the pay is good. I know I've spent the majority of my career in that boat.
Or take, for example, how some of the most prolific open source authors around the world who have created millions of dollars in business value need to have day jobs just to get by.
This is a problem, and it's an important one worth trying to solve.
As natural tinkerers, there will always be engineering challenges that spark our interest and get us excited about our jobs, but how you build something is generally less important than why you're building it.
So let me ask you a simple question:
When was the last time you worked on a project where you truly believed in and cared about the problem you were trying to solve?
It doesn't have to be anything grandiose or world changing, just something where you honestly cared about why you were solving a problem, not just how you were solving it.
Go ahead and take a minute to really think about your answer. I think it's a very important thought experiment...
Okay, hopefully you have an idea in your head now of what we'll call your last passion project. It doesn't matter if this was for a job or a side thing or if it ever got anywhere – what's important is that you cared deeply about solving a problem.
And hopefully it doesn't resemble one of these guy's answers 😂
Alright, now that we're on the same page about your passion project, let's jump back to our initial list of buzzy trends in the software industry:
Company of one..
So what do all of these have to do with your passion project?
The one thing these trends all have in common is enabling developer liberty.
Developer liberty is anything that gives developers the flexibility and financial freedom to focus on their passion projects.
Which in turn enables them to be more productive, lead more satisfying careers, and ultimately contribute to society in more meaningful ways.
This concept of developer liberty is extremely powerful, and it's already slowly transforming our industry in subtle ways. I think it's particularly useful to view these trends through the lens of a meta-trend towards a more independent, empowered, and self-sufficient workforce.
These trends aren't necessarily specific to the software industry – software just tends to move faster in some ways that inevitably disrupt other industries down the road. With all that in mind, let's break down each of these trends from the perspective of enabling developer liberty.
Remote work enables you to work where and when you want. It's all about flexibility, not having to commute, and ultimately allowing you to spend more time with friends & family.
Open source involves working on software publicly with no strings attached which is almost always based on intrinsic motivation, not extrinsic rewards.
E.g., intrinsic motivation can mean intellectual curiosity, scratching an itch, the joy of sharing your work with others, etc. whereas extrinsic rewards generally refer to money, prestige, and power. One type of motivation is not necessarily better or worse than the other – they both come with their own tradeoffs, but I can speak first-hand to the impact and rewarding nature of commiting to popular open source projects.
One important point here is that open source is excellent at value creation and traditionally very poor at value capture.
The digital nomad lifestyle is all about giving you the flexibility to live a more fulfilling life while working remotely and exploring the world. I was fortunate enough to live and work in Bangkok for two years and can say first-hand how life-changing this type of experience can be. 🙏
Side projects epitomize a developer's passions – they tend to be fun, intellectually stimulating, educational, and are often aimed at helping the greater good without necessarily worrying about financial rewards.
The no code movement enables non-developers to also take advantage of these trends. No-code and low-code tools are increasingly being used by non-developers to realize their passion projects as well without being constrained by the complexities of understanding how to code or having to hire software developers.
The company of one ethos (coined by Paul Jarvis) is all about achieving a richer and more fulfilling career by working for yourself, pursuing a flexible work schedule, and creating sustainable, profitable small businesses.
These goals all align very well with developer liberty, flexibility, and financial freedom. Achieving these goals is the hard part, but we'll touch on this more in a bit.
The Micro SaaS movement is a practical application of the company of one ethos that enables software developers to take control of their careers.
What's Micro-SaaS? It is a software as a service business owned and operated by one person or a small team. These businesses are location-independent, high margin, low-risk with predictable recurring revenue. They are the lifestyle business of the future. - Tyler Tringas (emphasis mine)
Passive income is aimed at generating revenue that is independent of the number of hours you spend working on a project. Most jobs require you to trade your time for money, whether you're getting paid hourly or a salary, whether you're making $10 / hour, $80k / year, or $600k / year. The beauty of passive income is that your earning potential is decoupled from your time, so as long as the unit economics are in your favor, you can pursue a lifestyle that truly allows you to follow your passions instead of trading time for money.
The point of passive income is to liberate your time for more fruitful endeavors — whatever those may be. - Tim Ferriss, The 4-Hour Workweek (emphasis mine)
Startups are probably the most over-hyped item on this list, and to some degree that's because traditional VC capitalism has bastardized the zeitgeist that gets startup founders so excited in the beginning of things. I believe we can do better.
What gets me really excited is when you start to think of each of these trends together as an aggregate movement that's greater than the sum of its parts. 💪
Whether you call it Indie Hackers, Micro SaaS, sustainable startups, or just plain old awesome sauce, the movement is the same.
It's a movement away from working at larger tech companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook, etc and the golden shackles they impose.
It's a movement away from working 9-5 for the man using the latest agile sprint methodologies in Jira to optimize business revenues for the fourth quarter.
It's a movement towards more flexible, remote, fulfilling lifestyles.
It's a movement towards small, independent, profitable businesses.
It's a movement towards empowering ambitious developers to focus on their passion projects.
And I genuinely ❤️ this movement.
It's pretty clear that I'm excited about the potential of this space, but more than anything I'd like to encourage you to explore your passion projects. Whether it's dusting off an old side project, contributing to open source, or thinking through this thought process for yourself, I believe this is the key to finding fulfillment as an indie developer.
So lemme know — what's your passion project? Am I insane? 👀